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Old Posted Feb 26, 2011, 4:22 PM
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Expanding Downtown (Transport Politic 2/25/2011)

I attended a very interesting discussion by Chris Leinberger (Brookings, U. of Michigan), sponsored by the U. of Michigan DC alumni club, of which my friend is the president, on Thursday. Mr. Leinberger said that within the next 15 years, the not only will all the land in the central business district of DC be developed but most of the remaining parcels in the downtown adjacent neighborhoods (Southeast Waterfront, L'Enfant, NoMa, etc...) will be developed as well ( , Slide 26). Mr. Leinberger also noted that we have overbuilt the traditional auto-dependent suburbs, as this was largely the only type of development built from 1945 - 1990/95. He said there is now a huge pent-up demand for housing in walkable urban communities. Something like 70-80 percent of households in the next couple of decades will be childless (either the retired baby-boom generation or the Millenials who are delaying marriage and child-rearing). Another interesting point was that in 2000, a house in McLean or Great Falls, with some of the best schools in the country was selling for 25% more per square foot than a house in a walkable urban neighborhood in Dupont, with some of the worst schools in the country. By the end of the decade, the house in Dupont was selling for 75% more per square foot than the house in McLean (slide 15).

Regarding this posting on the Transport Politic blog, Nat Bottigheimer from WMATA noted in his presentation to the Tenley Historical Society in October 2010 that peak period trips into the central business district of Washington on the Red Line will grow modestly because the downtown core is mostly built out. With the development of White Flint and North Bethesda, many of the new trips will be reverse commuting. The real capacity challenge for Metro rail is on the Orange and Blue lines, especially in Rosslyn, with the continued growth of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and more importantly, the massive redevelopment of Tysons from an edge city to a walkable urban area. Chris Leinberger called the Tysons transformation 'the mother of all redevelopments,' with perhaps as much as 100M square feet of new development. I've read elsewhere that this could very well be the largest development project outside of Dubai. A Greater Greater Washington post on the Tysons transformation said that it will have as much office space as Seattle when completed. I asked Mr. Leinberger to describe the scale of this, since most people can't fathom how much development 100M square feet is. He said it will be roughly the equivalent of creating another Rosslyn-Ballston corridor.

Expanding Downtown

Yonah Freemark
February 25th, 2011

"Washington, D.C. is a lucky city: Its downtown has been filled up with new construction over the past few decades to such an extent that it has virtually no space for new office buildings. Some, like Matt Yglesias, have suggested that one way to resolve this problem would be to increase densities by ridding the city of its height limit, which in essence makes it impossible to build structures in the city that are over about 10 stories. Lydia Depillis, another local commenter, has argued that the municipality still has plenty of developable sites which, though they may not be directly downtown, still offer opportunities for more office space.

What would be the manifestations of these different approaches? How can we weigh the advantages and disadvantages of upzoning the center city for more office space? Is our goal to produce vital, walkable, and dense downtown districts, or simply to expand new construction there, no matter the use?

The missing ingredient in this discussion is transportation. When we discuss the demand in downtowns like Washington’s for more office space, we sometimes make an assumption that the transport network will be able to handle whatever is thrown at it. In fact, there is a direct relationship between a downtown’s growth and the transportation provided to it. In general, businesses want to locate their offices in places that are accessible and that provide the benefits of agglomeration, and this sometimes means downtown, but not always. If the trip to and from the center — by whatever mode — becomes too arduous, there are significant reasons to locate outside of it. How does this fact apply to a place like Washington..."
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